Foreword to "Science Teaching and the Humanities" by Philipp Frank

By Rapoport, Anatol | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Foreword to "Science Teaching and the Humanities" by Philipp Frank


Rapoport, Anatol, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


THE CLOSENESS of Dr. Frank's position, as it appears in the present article, to the point of view of general semantics is too evident to require elaborate comment. Stated in general semantics terminology, Dr. Frank's critique of our education and learning centers on its elementalistic character reflected in the rigid divisions between the 'special fields' of science and in the even more unfortunate chasm between the sciences and the humanities. A forest of ivory towers has arisen, and philosophy, shirking its modern social duty of providing means of communication between the towers of the 'special fields' and a bridge with the humanities, has instead gone into business for itself--that is, set up another tower.

Dr. Frank realizes the need for a new orientation. This orientation is to come through a close and critical scrutiny of the history of thought and of the methods of science. It is to come through considering science itself as a peculiar type of orientation, namely, one which enables us to predict and control some phenomena of nature. It is through this approach to his special science as a chapter in the book of Man that the science student can become 'humanized.' Philosophy really need not build the bridge between the sciences and the humanities. This bridge already exists in the view of man as a time-binder. Philosophy need only point to it.

In showing how a philosophy of science may summarize scientific method, Dr. Frank describes among other things 'operational definitions.' Operational definitions are, of course, intimately connected with the 'extensionalization' and the 'criterion of predictability' of general semantics terminology. He introduces the connection between the symbolic postulation of Ohm's Law and reality by describing the relationship between the abstract terms of the physicist such as 'current,' 'resistance,' 'electromotive force,' and the 'everyday English' terms such as 'wire,' 'position of the needle,' etc. In general semantics terminology this translation is described as a descending order of abstraction, hence as extensionalization. The criterion of predictability likewise plays an important part in these operational definitions. "When the poles are connected, the needle will deflect so much. Then we say that an ampere of current is passing." Or, "when heat is applied, the gas will expand so much. Then we say that the temperature has been raised one degree." It is this constant reduction of scientific language to "if thus, then so" propositions that makes science a unifying factor in human affairs, where metaphysics has so long been a dividing factor.

Perhaps the most important of Dr. Frank's emphases is on the fact that there is no such thing as 'not having a philosophy.' The hard-boiled writers of 'practical' textbooks who maintain that they stick strictly to the facts, often exhibit a surprisingly soft-boiled, not to say addled, 'philosophy,' a metaphysics of tacit assumptions which they somehow somewhere have picked up. This is another way of recognizing that no matter what we say or how we say it, we do not speak 'facts' but rather describe our evaluations of facts, which are necessarily refracted in any metaphysics which happens to be lying around. …

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